Although he’s been dead for over forty years, I’ve been seeing and reading quite a bit about the Reverend Martin Luther King in the popular press lately. Much of this is attributable to the classification of February as “Black History” month -- but the majority is connected to America’s historic election of its first African-American president.
Many of the stories reference Dr. King’s soaring “I have a Dream” speech. If you’ve never heard or watched it, I would suggest you do. You can pull up the file on youtube.com or download it on iTunes. It is awe-inspiring not just for its words, but also given the time in which it was given.
It was August 28, 1963. America was in a time of great social upheaval. The Supreme Court had only recently order the desegregation of the public schools. In Washington, the Civil Rights Act was still a year away from passage. Racism was alive and well. Hundreds of thousands of citizens descended on the Mall in D.C. to make their case for racial equality. Prior to the Reverend King’s speech, musicians Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performed. Actor Charlton Heston spoke. It was a scene!
Admittedly, I wasn’t even born at the time of the address, but as I grew up, I was able to see some of the changes that King helped the country make. Because the Reverend King stated the problems and spoke of solutions, Americans were finally able to catch a vision for what needed to be done.
I think the disability community is in need of an “I have a dream” type moment.
I think I have mentioned in a previous post that I am a channel flicker. I love it, but it drives my wife crazy! I will watch three or four shows at a time, mostly things I have seen before so I don’t need to see every moment of the show. I can just flick back and forth between the best parts of each show and get the satisfaction of seeing all of them. Sometimes the shows I am watching mold together is some strange way to create a theme. This isn’t limited to movies, it can include just about anything; cartoons, concerts or even soccer on the Spanish channel. It can be a night of super-heroes or of war stories. Even if these stories are about different wars, they can all underscore the same theme of self-sacrifice or camaraderie. Some nights the things I watch can be so different that I can’t help but notice contrasting views, and wonder if I am the only one who sees them.
The other night I could not find anything I wanted to watch, so I clicked and clicked until I was so far up the list that I reached the music channels. On one channel there was a concert by a very popular band that is selling out stadiums around the world. The camera mostly focused on the lead singer/guitar player running from one side of the stage to the other, full of energy, screaming out the lyrics as the audience enthusiastically bounced up and down with energy that only people much younger than me have. I liked their music; they sounded good and the energy was infectious. I wished I could be in the audience enjoying what was surely a good show.
On the next channel was “Guitar Centers Sessions”. This is a small venue concert and interview. Most of the time it focuses on a band or individual who is a legend, or at least has been around for a long while. That night it was an interview with someone I had never heard of, but who is apparently is a legend to some. He sat in the chair talking about his life, including its many mistakes and missteps.
The contrast between these two channels was amazing to me. I flicked back and forth to watch them both, one highlighting the youth of today, full of energy, the other reflecting on life much later down the very same path. Both men tattooed head to toe, voices raspy, one from the years of cigarettes and hard living, the other from yelling out lyrics in giant stadiums.
I read a story this week about a mom who was struggling with the moment her daughter’s wheelchair was delivered. Her distress was not so much over the wheelchair itself, but had more to do with realizing that her daughter would need it for the rest of her life. In this month’s podcast, Dr. Lorna Bradley calls this kind of experience the circle of grief. As parents we all face those moments when we witness our children going through great trials, and it can break our hearts. For me, moments like this often occurred in a doctor’s office, at those baby wellness checkups where they measure your child from one end to the other and then give you a whole spate of statistics about how they are developing. Really, it’s the moment when they tell you how your child stacks up against other children that can be nerve wracking. It can be a moment of pride, but it can also be heartbreaking to hear that your child is falling behind other children their own age. For me it was never a shock or a revelation to hear; it was just another moment that confirmed our reality. Perhaps at some level I was thinking that if I just took my son to one more therapist or one more doctor it would change his diagnosis. Instead the doctor gave us the facts, which brought me painfully back to earth.
These moments are typically shot through with emotion and reflection, and while calling these episodes the circle of grief highlights the way we often feel, the fact is we encounter a similar circle with moments of great joy as well. Those doctors’ visits I mentioned sometimes came with predictions of future difficulties. Things were going to be hard for our son to accomplish; we were even told there were certain things our son would perhaps never be able to do. So when his hard work and determination and the dedication of his therapists led to a breakthrough, our joy was just as powerful as our grief in moments of discouragement.
A friend recently loaned me a copy of the HBO mini-series from a few years back entitled Band of Brothers.
Produced in 2001, it’s the story of the Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division and their mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day.
It was deeply moving.
I watched in awe of these courageous men who from the beaches of Normandy to the high mountain hideout of Hitler, encountered the unparalleled evils of humanity.
They watched friends die or get brutally wounded. They saw atrocities that are beyond our comprehension and yet most came home and raised families and lived the rest of their lives in relative obscurity.
These were ordinary men making an extraordinary effort.
Yes, some fell, and some collapsed beneath the weight of the moment. But these men made history, and without them the world would be a very different place.
As I interact with other parents of special needs kids, I am reminded of this series and of the uncommon valor exhibited in everyday life.
Like those brave men of Normandy, you didn’t plan for every circumstance.
You didn’t ask it; you simply responded and reacted to the challenge of the hour.
If you’re like me, you often feel unqualified and void of the skills needed to get the job done.
Some days it feels as if you were just dropped on the beach and you’re fighting your way ashore, dodging the bullets that rain from the sky.
Have you ever noticed that a seemingly simple task can quickly grow exceedingly complicated? Of late, we've been trying to arrange a trip with my whole family. Gone are the days of one car, Dad as the benevolent dictator and a few suitcases. We're all grown now, so this means multiples of everything: families, requests and demands and yes, even challenging problems that require sensitive handling. Negotiations for the excursion are now underway. For example, I had to guilt my sister into coming - but the persuasion comes with a hitch; if my brother bails out, she will too. I find it funny that while we've all grown up under the same roof with the same parents, we're all so very different. But, what else is new? When I look at my own children, I see three very distinctively unique people. Our tendency is to think that we treat them all the same, but the reality is that it's just not possible.